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Defining Metrics for a Help Desk

By | November 1, 2016 in Help Desk

Help Desk KPIs

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about Defining Metrics for the Service Desk. Recently someone asked me what about the help desk? This person works for an organization that doesn’t have an enormous service desk, with hundreds of agents and a complex multi-level service catalogue. Instead, there’s a help desk with just a few technicians who provide support to their users.  I’ve worked with IT departments from several small- and medium-sized organizations. In one organization, the help desk consisted of just two technicians whose manager also managed many other people in a variety of different roles. In other organizations, the help desk may have up to 30 or 40 agents, but they don’t operate on the same scale as a large corporate service desk.

Many of the differences between a help desk and a service desk stem from this difference in scale. Typically, a help desk doesn’t have the kind of sophisticated telephone system that routes calls and generates statistics on how long it takes each agent to answer the phone.  Instead, staff use a combination of a normal telephone and a web-portal to receive calls from users, and respond to them. The behavior we want to encourage, the metrics needed to encourage that behaviour, and the data available for actually doing the measuring, are all likely to differ significantly from what works best for a service desk.

But Some Things Don’t Change…

Some of the advice I offered in my blog about metrics for a service desk does apply just as well to a help desk. This includes:

  • Making sure you understand what you’re trying to achieve, and what’s important to you and your customers.  Write this down – even if you can’t measure it. Then use this to help you define KPIs that will help to indicate how well you’re doing.
  • Always remembering that KPIs are just indicators. Don’t ever make the mistake of believing that achieving the numbers means you’re doing a good job.
  • Defining your own help desk metrics and KPIs. Never just copy them from a book or another organization (or even a blog like this one).  You know much more than I do about what matters to your organization and its customers.
  • Reviewing your help desk KPIs regularly to make sure that they are still appropriate. The things that you (and your customers) care about will inevitably change over time, and when they do, you need to make sure your KPIs reflect this.

Objectives for a Help Desk

So now that we’ve spent some time thinking about general advice, let’s focus on some of the practical things you can do. The most important first step to take is to spend some time thinking about the things that your help desk should achieve, and then to write those things down as simply as you can. Remember that these achievements don’t have to be measurable. However, they do have to be the things that you and your customers really care about. Here are some examples of things you might care about:

  • Customers find it easy to contact the help desk when they need to.
  • The help desk solves customer issues quickly.
  • The help desk communicates well with users, keeping them informed and meeting their expectations.
  • The help desk collaborates with other parts of the IT organization when needed.

But please don’t just copy these ideas.  Make your own list, one that is relevant to your situation, and then talk to your customers about it.  Make sure everyone agrees that these are the most important things for you to achieve.

Once you and your customers have reached agreement about what you should achieve, you have some objectives to work with.

Defining KPIs that Support the Help Desk Objectives

For each of the objectives that you’ve written down you should now think of 2 or 3 KPIs that you can measure to indicate how well the help desk is meeting the objective. It’s important to remember that your KPIs are just indicators; don’t have too many of them, collecting more data than you need is a waste of everyone’s time and effort.

Here are some examples of KPIs a help desk could use to indicate whether they are achieving the objectives in my list of examples:

Objective: Customers find it easy to contact the help desk when they need to.

  • KPI: Less than 8 hours per week when users are working but there is no service desk coverage
  • KPI: Failures of the web-portal recover automatically within 5 minutes

Objective: The help desk solves customer issues quickly.

  • KPI: 98% of incidents are resolved within the times defined in the SLA
  • KPI: The backlog of open incidents reduces every week

Objective: The help desk communicates well with users, keeping them informed and meeting their expectations.

  • KPI: Fewer than 10 calls per week from users asking about the status of their incident
  • KPI: Post incident user satisfaction rating averages greater than 4 out of 5

Objective: The help desk collaborates with other parts of the IT organization when needed.

  • KPI: No negative feedback about the help desk from other parts of the IT organization

When you look at these KPIs and think about them, these are the important points to notice:

  • Every KPI supports an important objective, and achieving the KPI will indicate that the objective is being met.
  • Every KPI can be measured.
  • Every KPI has a clear and unambiguous target.

How to Use the Help Desk KPIs

If you decide to follow the advice I’ve been offering, by this point you will have a list of objectives for your help desk, and a list of KPIs for measuring and reporting on how well it is performing. At this stage, it’s all too easy to get so caught up in the KPIs that you lose sight of the original objectives; and it’s vital that you don’t let that happen.

The best way to make sure that you always stay focused on your objectives is to create reports that include them; list the measured metrics and trends under the objective they refer to. This way you will be able to lead conversation about your reporting back to the things that matter.

When you take the report to your customer, the conversation should be about the objectives.  Ask about them directly: “Did the help desk solve your issues quickly?” You can provide the metrics to show how quickly you solved issues, and you can use the trends to show that you are improving every week, but don’t present the numbers and tell the customer that this means you did a great job. You must allow your customer to tell you how well you did.

For example, think about a KPI that reads “98% of incidents are resolved within the times defined in the SLA”. Let’s suppose the help desk achieved 99% this month, but one incident that didn’t get resolved within the timeframe specified by the SLA had a huge financial impact. Your customer might well not agree that you did a good job, and your KPI definitely needs some tweaking.

So, use the KPIs for setting thresholds to help you take action when things aren’t going well, and for trend analysis, to see which things are getting better and which might need improvement. But DON’T use them to tell your customers that they are satisfied!


Appropriate KPIs for a help desk are unlikely to be exactly the same as those for a service desk, but the underlying principles don’t change. Identify your objectives, then identify things you can measure and report to indicate how well you’re meeting the objectives. Use what you discover to help you communicate with your customers and to help you identify what you need to improve.

When did you last review your help desk metrics? When did you last talk to your customers about them? Are you measuring and reporting the right things? As always do please let me know if you try the ideas from my blogs.

Stuart Rance

About Stuart Rance

Stuart is an ITSM and security consultant, working with clients all round the world. He is one of the authors of ITIL 4, as well as an author of ITIL Practitioner, ITIL Service Transition, and Resilia: Cyber Resilience Best Practice. He is also a trainer, teaching standard and custom courses in ITSM and information security management, and an examiner helping to create ITIL and other exams. Now that his children have all left home, he has plenty of time on his hands for contributing to our blog - lucky us!

2 thoughts on “Defining Metrics for a Help Desk”

  1. Avatar Lee Mewshaw

    Thanks for posting this, and I appreciate the thought you put into it. One suggestion for you is to reconsider your terms. I think what you’re describing as objectives are really goals, and what you call the KPIs are actually the objectives. The KPI is what you’re measuring. The way I think of it, a goal is a description of the destination, while an objective describes how to measure progress that is needed to get to the destination. KPIs are the measurement against the objective. So, for example, “98% of incidents are resolved within the times defined in the SLA” is what you say is a KPI. In my opinion, the KPI in this case is “Time to Resolve” and the objective is “98% of incidents are resolved within the times defined in the SLA”, and the goal is “The help desk solves customer issues quickly.” Well, to quibble a bit more, the goal should be “The help desk resolves customer issues within agreed timeframes.”


    1. Stuart Rance Stuart Rance


      Thank you for your comments. It’s interesting to see how different people use the same terms with slightly different meanings. My use of the terms is close to the way they are used in the ITIL publications.


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